Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Bladerunner

“School Pumpkin Carving Party—Bring Really Sharp Knives!” Okay, the flyer actually said “Bring carving equipment,” but how often do you get a memo from your kids’ school instructing you to bring sharp instruments?  And something has to happen when you pair really little kids with really sharp instruments, lots and lots of sugared snacks, and really tired parents, right?  

As my family walked into the school cafeteria I felt like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind observing the Confederate wounded. The fluorescently-lit landscape electrified the endless columns of gorged pumpkins;  their stringy anatomical remains being pulled and shoveled into indiscriminate piles of useless discarded organs; amputated craniums beginning to brown and bleed their pulpy mucous into the print of last Sunday’s newspaper—I was standing in the middle of one big orange autopsy.

Eager to decapitate our perfect pumpkin, we squeezed ourselves into a small space at one of the lunch tables. Kids all around me were stabbing their pumpkins with serrated knives while parents chatted. As I knelt down to retrieve something from my purse, my eyes met the eyes of a three-year-old Asian boy swinging two knives around the perimeter of my head like a spasmodic samurai—parents nowhere in sight. Luckily, I’ve watched enough reality cop shows on Spike TV to know how to handle this situation. With authority I said, “PLEASE PUT DOWN THE KNIVES.”  

He smiled and hissed, “Ninja, Ninja, Ninja…” in a voice that sounded like it came straight from the bowels of hell. This never happened on COPS. Fear overtook me; however, from my crouched position I had an unobstructed view of my husband’s feet, and all I could think of as my little Ninja decided to try his hand at juggling his steel blades was, “He wore those shoes? I thought I put them in the bag going to Good Will!” The sound of steel tap dancing dangerously close to my left ear returned my attention to my little knife juggler. Slowly, yet deliberately, I reached into my bag and pulled out a lint encrusted strawberry banana Laffy Taffy and dangled it before Little Ninja to tempt him into submission. Understanding the art of the artificially sweetened deal, he dropped his swords, grabbed the candy, and took off.

Relieved, I turned my attention to my husband as he butchered the pumpkin we had picked last weekend. Grunting, sweating, lips moving in a silent swear; his face that perfect shade of apoplectic red that screams, “My blood pressure is dangerously high!” my hunka hunka burning love gave me that look that only lovers with children give each other, and my heart thumped as I read the message his eyes were sending me, “This was your ******* idea; family night, my ***! I blew him a kiss with my middle finger. Ah, love!

As I was looking for my children, I saw a group of two-year-olds who attend my mommy and me classes sitting in a cozy circle on the linoleum floor. I bent down to their level and noticed that one of them had gotten their hands on a small orange dollar store “Made in China” pumpkin knife. Being what I would call “The Toddler Whisperer” I read the look on their faces and I started to sweat profusely. In my head, I could hear their untrained voices telling me that they were sick and tired of singing the same old stupid songs in my class. I could hear the one with the knife saying, “Hey Miss Annie, look at me ‘I’m a little tea pot short and stout…just tip me over and…” slash goes the pumpkin knife into my ankle. Another one saying “Hey, pssst…Miss Annie…“The itsy-bitsy spider crawled up the…” slash the pumpkin knife goes into my knee. Yet another Lilliputian voice, “Hey Miss Annie, how ‘bout I carve a pumpkin face into your not so little red caboose?”

All around me echoed the scrape of knives; the whines of over-tired children; the mutterings of my unenthused husband. The putrid stench of decaying pumpkin carcasses assaulted my senses. It was then I realized I know where the wild things are.  

Next Week: Lost in Translation

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Damned Dog

My husband is a quiet man, but when he talks—look out. For instance, two years ago while I was making dinner, and the kids were driving me crazy, I asked him if he could entertain them while I cooked. In a deep baritone voice he announced, “Hey kids, Daddy’s getting you a dog!” I dropped an entire box of salt into the pot of boiling sauce.
          I looked at him like he was crazy and replied, “Por Qua, Poppy?” which is French for “Are you out of your ******* mind!” He nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders. Now, one shrugs their shoulders when Shop Rite’s out of sale items; when the principal asks if there’s any family history of mental illness; NOT when they unilaterally announce that a shedding four-legged, needs to be walked three-times-a-day, non-stop eating machine is moving in! We talked for 8 years before we decided to have children for godsakes! But a dog? Fingersnap, and “Come on in fleabag—daddy found you a mommy!”
          It just so happened that the North Shore Animal League was bussing in runaways and strays the next day to Gilda’s Club in Hackensack, so off we went. The bus had a windowed wall so that you could look at all the choices. Pedigree puppies excitedly jumped up, down and around their glass enclosed cages; kittens of all colors climbed on top of each other. And then there she was. The fat old lady of the litter at 7 months and 45 pounds, her back scornfully pressed against the window, curled up into herself for a comfortable mid-morning nap. I knocked on the window, causing her to stir and look at me with an expression that said, “What the **** do you want, Jersey Girl?” I knew then that this cranky canine was the dog for us.
          As predicted, everyone soon lost interest in her. So guess who became ward of the dog? Well, I now love this dog. She follows me everywhere, she climbs into bed with me, and barks whenever my husband attempts to come near me. How great is this dog??? I swear, when she dies I’m having her stuffed!       
          One day when she was looking a little Rastafarian, I decided to groom her with an old electric hair razor that I found in the basement. Why not? Afterall, it costs me more to have her hair cut than mine, so...what could be the harm? I have to admit, the dog actually sat still for me as I plugged in the ancient Sears shears, although she did howl and cry. I was amazed by the first few cuts. Her ragged hair fell off in knotted clumps and I momentarily thought that I had found a new career. Forget writing! I'll charge $20 to groom dogs and make a nice living.
I switched off the razor to stop and admire my work. As my dog sat there obediently allowing me to observe her, I was instantly horrified. If there's a doggy version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" she'd get the lead. One side of her jaw was bald while uneven clumps of shag hung from the other side. Her tail looked like a topiary, her legs were shaved hairless, her knees were knobby (Wow! Dogs have knees????) and her paws looked like they belonged to a wooly mammoth. Apparently, I got carried away and shaved off her left eyebrow. Frankly, I never knew that dogs even HAD eyebrows until I shaved one off! Looking at me with contempt, she skulked off.
However, it wasn't until she refused to step out of the house to go for a walk that I realized she was thoroughly embarrassed! I literally had to lift and carry her out of the house and even then she ran to hide behind every unoccupied tree! So, I did the only thing that a responsible dog owner, and mother, could do--I made an appointment with a real dog grooming shop to have her evened out. And when they asked who did this to the dog--I blamed it on the kids. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

One Wedding and a Felony

As if kidnapping a Mexican wasn’t bad enough, how about adding a felony to my resume? Let me ‘splain. My husband was best man at a brother fireman’s wedding. That morning, he assured me that he’d stop at the bank to take out money for the gift.  
Fast forward. I walk into the venue at 11:20am and there’s my Mr. Wonderful, suave in his tux, leaning on the bar imbibing what must have been one in a series of drinks because his eyes were mirthfully beginning to cross. A tsunami of scotch splashed from his glass because he couldn’t hold it level. No doubt: I am anointed designated driver when I desperately need to drink. (Breathe…you can do this sober…so what the kids’ had a waffle fight before I left and Log Cabin has afro-sheened my hair? So what the dog was constipated and needed my rubber-gloved intervention? So what my son bumped into me causing me to hairspray my eyes and now every third eyelash is stuck together making me look like Munch’s Scream?)
As soon as we crossed the threshold from ceremony to cocktail hour I grabbed a plate, but my tuxedoed Romeo pulled me from the tortellini line to inform me that he forgot to go to the bank. His eyes being now completely crossed, I took his bank card and drove to a nearby branch of our bank.  
          I decided to take the cash that the ATM spit out and change it into larger bills. There was only one teller; an acne-prone 18-year-old whom I’ll call “Kenneth,” with a falsetto voice cracking from belated puberty.
“Hello, welcome to xxxx Bank. How may I help you?”
“Hello, Kenneth, I’d like this converted into larger bills.”
“Sure, do you have an account with us?”
“I sure do, Kenneth.”
“Can I see your I.D.?”
“Sure Kenneth.” I handed him my ATM card. Except it wasn’t MY ATM card. It was my husband’s.
Kenneth: “This card says James Piccirillo.”
Me: “That’s my husband.”
Man in line behind me: “Oh, here we go!”
Kenneth: “Why do you have James Piccirillo’s card?”
Me: “Because he’s my husband.”
Kenneth: “Do you have I.D.?”
Me: “Yes, in my purse; in my car.”
Kenneth: “SECURITY!”
Man in line behind me: “I knew it!”
Me: (Turning) “Shut the **** up!”
Security: “Mam, can you come with me?”
Me: “Are you kidding me? I’m dressed for a wedding! Do I LOOK like a bank robber?” (Note: very poor choice of words.)
Fast forward. Me, Security, Assistant Manager and Kenneth waiting in conference room for Manager to return from break. Manager returns from break with predictable latte in hand, and allows Security and Kenneth to escort me to minivan to retrieve I.D. to prove I am Mrs. Piccirillo at a time when I no longer have any desire to be Mrs. Piccirillo.
          After much contemplation and whispered discussion I am released. Kenneth says, “Have a nice day! Thank you for banking with ****.”
To which I shout over my shoulder, “Go **** yourself, Kenneth!”
          Return to reception one hour fifteen minutes later—dinner in progress—a lukewarm dish of chicken breathlessly delivered to me by unenthused server. Cross-eyed husband comes over; look on my face is my secret super-power that momentarily uncrosses his eyes; terrified, he retreats to bar. While on my way to refill my club soda, the maid-of-honor has burning need to inform me that her husband was nervous because he thought he knew me, in the biblical sense, but she “checked me out” and I’m not the person he thought I was. She snorted and told me that I looked just like a whore he knew; then laughed, “You look just like a whore…” (Long laugh.) Not amused, I watched her limp tongue swat the whipped cream goatee left behind by a sexually-named shot she had just devoured. Stone sober, I am rendered absolutely speechless.   
          Moral of the story: Escape with the Mexican when you have the chance. You’d have clean windows, he wouldn’t call you names, and for an extra 20 bucks he’d probably mow your lawn.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Father's Story

Imagine you’re watching the Mets game with your eleven-year old Yankee fan son. It’s a moment. Just an ordinary moment.

Now imagine a year later he’s gone. That’s exactly what happened to Mark Wrightington. One minute he was enjoying a baseball game with his first-born son Harold; a few hours later his entire world was upended.

Harold went to bed early that evening claiming, “The Mets stink; this game is boring.” Later, he woke his father and mother, Sandra, because he didn’t feel well. He had a headache; he became nauseous. An ordinary midnight moment for every parent. Then, Harold’s speech became garbled, and seizures began to overtake him. Nothing like this had ever happened to Harold before, so Mark and Sandra rushed him to Hackensack Hospital. Tests were performed, but the doctors could not determine the cause of his seizures. They prescribed medicine and ordered monthly MRI’s. 

The MRI’s came back ordinary until the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday; that’s when they found a tumor. Not just any tumor—the rarest of all tumors for a child—glioblastoma multi-form—the same tumor that Teddy Kennedy had. Doctors know little about the tumor except for one thing--it is ALWAYS fatal.

I could talk about the details of Harold’s illness; I could talk about the fact that Harold’s chemotherapy consisted of 45 pills that cost $40,000, and for those whose insurance won’t cover it, or the uninsured, the pharmaceutical company provides financing, but only after a credit check; any mar on your credit and your child goes without chemotherapy.

However, I want to talk about the people who rallied around Harold to make his fundraisers a success—Ed Young, the owner of The Outback in Edgewater; the wrestlers who organized a tournament for Harold; the Lindbergh School in Palisades Park who supported a family in their time of need. I want to talk about Bobby Mercer who called Harold’s family in the midst of his own struggle with cancer because he heard that Harold was a huge Yankee fan. I want to talk about the spirit of a community, who when a child is afflicted with a horrible disease puts aside all differences to gather together and collectively support the family. Harold had many champions, but Harold was the hero.

Harold underwent brain surgery; he championed chemotherapy; the tumor returned. Enter the Make-a-Wish foundation. Within 24 hours of receiving a call from Sandra they arranged for Harold and his family to visit Disney World. Make-a-Wish gave Harold one last chance to be a kid—no hospitals, no chemo. Just a chance to be ordinary. 

Harold died on July 4, 2008. No ordinary day. Then again, he was no ordinary boy. 

During the course of our conversation it became clear to me that there is no such thing as an ordinary moment. Every moment is filled with meaning, but we realize it not so much when the moment has passed away, but when the person has passed away. Mark told me that when Harold was an infant he would lay him on his chest and watch football because it was comforting. When Harold was lying in his hospital bed Mark would lay with him and Harold would place his head on Mark’s chest, once again giving comfort to his father.

Listening to Harold’s parents I knew that Harold’s lasting wish would be to bring comfort; to have no other child, parent, brother or sister endure what he and his family endured. That’s why last year Mark and Sandra formed the team “Harold’s Heroes” for the annual north Jersey Make-a-Wish Foundation walk-a-thon; “Harold’s Heroes” raised $34,000.

“Harold’s Heroes” will be in the Make-a-Wish walk-a-thon on October 18th at Liberty State Park. If you’d like to walk with “Harold’s Heroes” or if you’d like to donate to Make-a-Wish Foundation through them, log onto Mark Wrightington’s Facebook page where you’ll find information on how to participate and/or make a donation. Mark, Sandra and all of “Harold’s Heroes” are walking not only to keep Harold’s memory alive, they’re walking for tomorrow’s children. Because tomorrow’s children diagnosed with cancer, can so easily be mine or yours.    

To make a donation, please click on the link below: